June 26, 2020
St. Margaret’s parishioners Farar Elliott and Ron Lorentzen interviewed fellow parishioner Jonathan Nurse for this question-and-answer reflection on Pride Month.
1. Share a little about your background, when you came to St Margaret’s, and why?
I was raised in central New Jersey by West Indian parents who emigrated in 1977, just before my birth. Years earlier, my maternal grandmother and other extended family established themselves in nearby Brooklyn, New York. Despite close proximity to family, and promising professional opportunities, my parents were skeptical of their new environment. Stories from afar of black life in America, added to their own new experiences, set the understanding that they now lived in a country that wasn’t created with their best interests in mind. My mom provided me and my sister with seemingly endless teachings on working hard, trusting nobody, and navigating interactions with the police.
In 1995, I moved to Washington, D.C. to attend the George Washington University, which was just far enough away from home. I earned Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in public policy after a brief parent-driven flirtation with the pre-medical curriculum. One of the many lessons that I learned in Foggy Bottom was that you have to write your own life story.
I found St. Margaret’s in 2015, during a time of significant difficulties in my life. Though I was raised in the Episcopal tradition, I hadn’t attended church in years. Returning to the Episcopal Church helped me to regain sight of how God works in our lives. I moved through the challenges of that period with a strength that I credit to God and the open and welcoming approach of St. Margaret’s.
2. What does LGBTQ Pride mean to you as a person of color?
As a gay black man in America, the feeling of otherness is a familiar discomfort. I have lived in relatively diverse communities yet still have anxiety rooted in the knowledge that some see my presence as a threat. I view LGBTQ Pride month as a relief, a time to celebrate a community in which each person shares some, and perhaps multiple, elements of my own life story. Importantly, it’s a time to give thanks for those past and present who have demanded the right for everyone to live their truth peacefully and outside of the shadows.
3. Could you share anything about the experiences or special challenges that you may have encountered trying to navigate through and thrive in two distinct minority cultural communities which our larger society has not always accepted and has often oppressed in different ways?
I came out to my parents in 2004, I recall my father saying at the time: “Your life is already difficult as a black man in America. Why would you chose to make it even harder by leading a gay life?” I went into that conversation armed with a ready response to his expected mischaracterization of sexual orientation. However, a part of his comment was correct. Life as a gay black man is difficult. I’ve been particularly disappointed to see instances of homophobia in the black community and racism in the LGBTQ community. I’ve tried to find grace in such situations, understanding that those who have been hurt are not immune from hurting others.
4. Please respond to the following by completing the sentence:
- I first felt seen as an LGBTQ person of faith when my voice was invited into fellowship and leadership at St. Margaret’s because of my unique perspective and not in spite of it.
5. The modern LGBTQ movement emerged from a moment of violent confrontation (involving, in part, trans people of color) at New York’s Stonewall Inn around a half century ago, while similar examples of violence and oppression mark the evolution of other minority rights movements in our country. How does commemorating LGBTQ Pride at another moment of social violence and protest concerning racial oppression affect you?
LGBTQ Pride month brings a mix of emotions this year. Through footage of a Central Park interaction where the threat of police intervention was used as a weapon against a law abiding African American birdwatcher to the murders of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd to a global pandemic that is disproportionately impacting people of color, I see reminders that my parents early teachings on race were largely on point. I also see people of all shades taking to the streets, like never before in my lifetime, to say “enough!” I’m made hopeful by the widespread proclamations that black lives matter. LGBTQ Pride this year offers a timely moment to reflect on the pain, perseverance, and pride associated with human rights movements in the U.S. and abroad.
6. How has your faith and, more specifically, the St. Margaret’s community supported and guided you in managing and making sense of these experiences and feelings?
My faith teaches me that my actions and life story have worth, and that they must be used in service to others. It teaches me that there will remain work to do until each life is valued equally and given the tools necessary to thrive. St. Margaret’s has provided support by tackling the uncomfortable questions of the day and enabling the exchange of instructive life experiences.
7. What are your hopes for the future and how might St. Margaret’s play an even more transformative role for a better world with respect to such issues?
I hope that the St. Margaret’s congregation continues to grow despite the headwinds of urban life in the 2020s. Each person at St. Margaret’s, whether a long-time member or new to the congregation, is essential to maintaining the vibrant community that has helped generations weather tragedies and celebrate progress.